June 11, 2015 / 11:02 AM / 2 years ago

Syrian rebels seize parts of air base in south: monitor

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Syrian rebels on Thursday captured parts of a military airport in southern Syria, adding to President Bashar al Assad’s recent setbacks after it seized a major base this week, a group monitoring the war said.

Syrian state television denied that the rebels had captured the airport, saying the army had killed dozens of “terrorists” following several failed attempts to seize it.

The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks violence across the country, said the rebels had taken over parts of the al-Thala air base in Sweida province.

Bashar al-Zoubi, head of the Yarmouk Army, involved in the rebel offensive, said heavy fighting was taking place inside parts of the sprawling military compound and expected its fall before the end of the day.

The airport lies west of Sweida city, an area inhabited mainly by the country’s Druze community, and was used as a base for shelling rebel-held villages and towns in the nearby Deraa countryside. It had not been used as an airport for over a decade, a local source said.

The Syrian army also said on Thursday a military plane had crashed in southern Syria and the cause was being investigated.

Rebels said they shot down a Russian MIG jet fighter and released videos of what appeared to be the wreckage of a burnt plane in an area close to the heavy fighting around the besieged military airport.

Reporting by Tom Perry and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Louise Ireland/Hugh Lawson

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